The topic of ectrodactyly has been discussed in the past on this very site. The story of Grady Stiles Jr. detailed the condition at length but, to summarize, ectrodactyly is a rare congenital deformity of the hand where the middle digit is missing and the hand is cleft where the metacarpal of the finger should be. It is perhaps best known as ‘lobster claw syndrome’. It is an inherited condition and often occurs in both the hands and the feet. It generally affects about 1 in 90,000 babies, with males and females equally likely to be affected.

However, with the so called Ostrich People of Zimbabwe, ectrodactyly occurs in roughly 1 in 4 infants. The Vadoma are a tribe living in near seclusion along the Zambezi River Valley in western Zimbabwe. They were considered something of a legend, a myth, until their mainstream discovery by one Charles Sutton in the 1950’s. The Vadoma are a popular example of the genetic effects of small population size on genetic defects and mutation. Due to the Vadoma tribe’s isolation, their population has maintained a constant appearance of ectrodactyly, and due to the comparatively small gene pool, the condition is much more frequent than elsewhere.Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Vadoma condition is the total acceptance and adaptation of the population. The deformity is not regarded as a handicap; rather it is simply viewed as a fact of life.

A brief video of the Ostrich People can be found here.

Last Update: June 27, 2024